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Sitting at work killing blue and white collar Australians
Simply sitting is killing Australian workers – both blue and white collar – and even 30 minutes' exercise a day may be insufficient protection from this growing occupational health and safety hazard, researchers will tell the Queensland Safety Conference.
University of Queensland and Baker IDI research fellow, Genevieve Healy will use her June 18 Queensland Safety Conference address to warn employers of the damage sitting for hours could be doing to their workers' health.
New Australian research shows hours of sedentary activity, like typing emails or sitting at a quality control station, are associated with higher cardio-metabolic health risks that are independent of time spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.
"Although many Australians have adopted the recommendation of getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on at least five days of the week, we've been getting more overweight," Dr Healy says.
"The most plausible explanation is that 30 minutes constitutes a very small proportion of waking hours. It's equally important to look at what the person is doing for the remaining 15 and-a-half hours of the day. A person who follows the guidelines of 30 minutes of brisk walking and spends the other 97 per cent of waking hours sitting is 'physically active' according to public health guidelines. However, the term 'active couch potato' is probably more appropriate."
The evidence that work plays a central role in health and fitness dates back to the middle of the last century. Sedentary English bus drivers and mail sorters were more likely to suffer cardiovascular events than more active bus conductors and postal workers. The more recent workplace phenomenon of information technology could explain Australia's spiralling obesity rate, Dr Healy will tell occupational health and safety practitioners at the Queensland Safety Conference.
"Sedentary behaviour has been embedded into many workplaces: computers and labour-saving devices have replaced much of the need to stand up and move about at work, as well as the physical activity involved in manual handling tasks."
"Before emails, it was common practice to walk to discuss issues with colleagues or walk to the mail room to send a letter. And it's not just confined to office workers. Even traditionally active workers are exercising less as labour-saving devices like powered pallet trucks reduce the amount of walking in factories and warehouses."
"Work is now a 'sitting-friendly' environment and it – together with commuting – accounts for most of our waking hours. For these reasons, the workplace is a key setting in which to influence and modify sedentary behaviour. Rather than focusing purely on ways to reduce manual handling, the safety profession needs to consider how we can engineer more physical activity back into our jobs."
While technology has led to more sedentary working lives, Dr Healy says it could be used to boost activity levels.
"Some of the recent innovations to reduce sitting time, include electronic sit-to-stand desks (so you can transition easily from sitting to standing), and slow-moving treadmills so that you are 'walking' while you are working," she says.
"There are also plenty of simple ways to encourage people to stay active at work. For example, put high benches in the tea room and office so workers can easily incorporate standing into their working lives while eating lunch or reading. If you're worried about your own activity levels, stand up while you talk on the phone and cut down on the number of emails you send – get up to chat with colleagues in person when you can."
Dr Genevieve Healy will address the Queensland Safety Conference on June 18. Presented by the Queensland and Northern Territory division of the Safety Institute of Australia, the Queensland Safety Conference will run from June 16 to 18 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre in conjunction with the Queensland Safety Show where more than 200 companies will showcase new workplace safety products and services. For more information, visit www.qldsafetyshow.com.au, email email@example.com or phone Australian Exhibitions & Conferences on 03 9654 7773.